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A man holding a rifle stands in front of the armed forces recruiting center in Winchester, Va.

Mass Shooting

Armed Civilians Take Up Posts Outside Military Recruitment Centers

In the wake of Chattanooga shootings, outraged civilians volunteered to defend unarmed service members.

In the days following Thursday’s shooting deaths of four Marines and a sailor at military instillations in Chattanooga, Tennessee, a handful of civilians — all of them openly carrying guns — have mobilized to stand guard outside military recruiting centers across the country.

Last week, Republican presidential candidates made security at these facilities a campaign issue. Donald Trump was the first to call for an end to a ban on service members carrying guns at recruitment offices. He was later joined by more mainstream colleagues like Jeb Bush, who, at a town hall meeting in Carson City, Nevada, said that if the Marines had been armed, they wouldn’t have become targets.

Six state governors took swift action, ordering that all National Guard recruiters in their states be armed. Though his more measured response went less noticed, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, for his part, ordered a two-week review on how to improve security at military instillations. But none of that was enough to quell the anger and disappointment of the private citizens who quickly took matters into their own hands.

By volunteering to “protect” seemingly vulnerable military facilities, the self-appointed sentries believe they are not only fulfilling their patriotic duty, but also expressing disgust with an American government that has let down its servicemen. In Huntsville, Alabama, a Navy veteran guarded a recruiting station, even though the facility was closed to the public. There were scattered personnel inside, and that was enough to keep him stationed in front of the entrance, a handgun holstered at his side. “When it happens during battle or something, that’s a different story,” he told a local news affiliate. “But something as useless as this … there’s no reason.”

In Hiram, Georgia, the scene and the sentiment were similar. A woman named Crystal Tewellow, whose brother works as a military recruiter, organized a watch at the town’s recruiting center, drawing an estimated 30 volunteers. “To think the people who are supposed to protect and serve us are unable to protect and serve … [while protecting] themselves,”she told the local Fox station. “So if us, the citizens, who have carry permits, are able to help protect them … that’s what we’re gonna be able to do.”

Over the weekend, Brian Blackden, a gun shop owner in Concord, New Hampshire, took up a post outside a local Armed Forces Career Center, holding a black assault rifle with a scope and dressed in black military-style cargo pants. He called on governor Maggie Hassan to “take action,” and to allow those who work at military installations to “have firearms, so they can protect our liberties.” Beside him was a sign that read, “We’re at war. Arm our military.”

That the gunman in Chattanooga was a 24-year-old Muslim who may have been radicalized — the FBI is investigating but has yet to find clear evidence of direct terror ties — has made these ad hoc missions feel even more urgent. On Friday, a man standing guard over a Winchester, Virginia recruiting center said, “[Muslims] declared war on us, and we seem to not put it in perspective and realizing that the war is here.” The man declined to give a reporter his identity. He did, however, pose for a photograph, wearing a sleeveless shirt and clutching an AR-15 rifle. He resembled a modern crusader, a tattoo of a Jewish star within a Medieval cross on his bicep.

[Photo: Scott Mason/The Winchester Star via AP]